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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

SMBs: Top 10 Sources for Technology Information

In our recent SMB survey in North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific we explored 14 potential sources of information on technology solutions. Some of these, such as TV or newspaper/magazine advertising, are clearly ‘top of the funnel’ options, intended to build awareness. Some options, including brochures and fact sheets, help to build consideration for specific solutions amongst prospective customers who are considering a specific type of solution. A third set of information sources, including product reviews on websites, case studies and whitepapers are primarily intended to build preference. And a fourth set, including seminars and face-to-face sales calls are used to convert prospects into closed business. Complicating these categorizations is the presence of options, such as the manufacturer’s website, that address multiple points in this process spectrum.

Which of these sources is most important to reaching a potential SMB buyer? Unsurprisingly (given the increasing complexity of the DMU [Decision Making Unit]), the answer is “it depends”.  Our research, as shown in the figure below, demonstrates that manufacturer website is an important source of information for small and medium businesses, and for ITDMs and BDMs [ITDM and BDM data not shown in the figure]. We also see that recommendations, IT news and analysis sites and personal sales calls help drive behavior.

smb-top-10-technology-information-sources-techaisle-infographics

What is really interesting, though, is the extent to which the data indicates use of multiple sources. Except in the mid-market, each of the top five information sources is used by more than one-third of the target audience; except in small business, each of the top 10 sources is used by at least 19% of the target. As the statistics regarding pre-contact information gathering above suggests, buyers are doing extensive research before connecting with potential suppliers – and potential suppliers need to be present in the media that the buyers are using, to make it past awareness to the consideration and preference stages that often occur beyond the purview of the IT vendor.

If we look again at the information sources listed in the figure above, we can appreciate the ways in which the channel can support the overall sales process. For example, small businesses like to get personal calls from suppliers – but calls like these to small businesses are far more likely to originate from a local channel representative than from a manufacturer. Similarly, BDMs are looking for personalized service and recommendations – but many IT suppliers, OEMs and channel partners alike, lack the understanding needed to communicate meaningfully with this audience. Who needs to be involved to help direct these discussions?

Vendors need to engage with SMB customers while the solution is being defined – not when the only decisions remaining are “whose components, and at what cost”? SMB buyers are using high-value content to define their IT buying approaches. Vendors need to build messages around/within high-value content to ensure that they can influence solution design and preferences.

Asia/Pacific version of above Infographic is here.

 

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Perspective: Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Success Management

Cisco and the SMB market

Cisco has established an undisputed leadership position in the enterprise market. The company combines a widely-adopted and well-integrated portfolio of networking products with a highly-skilled (and paid) direct sales force to manage/expand its presence within major accounts.

The SMB market is a separate challenge. Here, buyers are less likely to require integration across multiple network components and more likely to emphasize price. They are also more likely to receive advice/management from channel partners, further reducing Cisco’s control over the acquisition process.

Against this backdrop, Techaisle’s SMB Channel Trends research illustrates the strengths and challenges Cisco must manage, as it looks to expand its share in the SMB segment.

Cisco Commands High Trust and Reputation within its Channel Partners

Within the channel community, Cisco enjoys a sound reputation and a high degree of trust. Techaisle’s SMB channel partner survey shows that 78 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners trust Cisco, a higher percentage than is registered by competitors such as HP and IBM. Nearly 70 percent of the partners believe that Cisco has quality products – again, the highest ranking recorded within the ‘hardware leader’ group including Cisco, HP, IBM and others. However, only 52 percent mention that Cisco has cutting edge technology, a percentage lower than that for both IBM and Microsoft. Moreover, 60 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners say that they Like Cisco, lower than corresponding rates for HP and Microsoft, only slightly higher than is found for IBM.

In its 2013 Annual report Cisco has written, “A substantial portion of our products and services is sold through our channel partners, and the remainder is sold through direct sales.” With specific reference to SMBs, Cisco wrote, “Generally, we define commercial businesses as companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. The larger, or midmarket, customers within the commercial market are served by a combination of our direct salesforce and our channel partners. Small businesses or companies with fewer than 100 employees, within the commercial market are primarily served by our channel partners.” Techaisle’s data shows that Cisco has attracted positive attention within this channel partner community, but that its technology and relationships may not leave it especially differentiated from competitors.

Data shows Cisco's SMB Channel Partner Challenges

Cisco is seeking to capitalize on market transitions and is steadily driving its channel partners to offer products and services that deploy cloud, mobility, virtualization, managed services, data center solutions and now Internet of Things. This is by no means an easy task as most SMB channel partners are being actively courted by competitive vendors that also want to grow their emerging technologies’ business. SMB channel partners selling emerging technologies have an average of 3.46 vendor partnerships; this average jumps to 4.21 for Cisco SMB partners, a difference of 21 percent. With this increased contention for mind/market/wallet share, it can be difficult for Cisco to manage brand identity and its related messaging.

This difficulty is illustrated by study findings showing that of the Cisco SMB channel partners, 44 percent consider Cisco to be their top partner. The other 56 percent mention Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM and several other firms. Within the VAR/SI community, Cisco’s share of preference is 48 percent; this drops to 39 percent amongst the MSPs/SPs that are viewed as critical to the success of future cloud initiatives.

It is not enough to only measure customer satisfaction or brand awareness to identify overall channel and market presence. Techaisle believes that it is important for IT vendors like Cisco to measure their Brand Equity within SMB channel partners as well as SMBs. Techaisle’s Brand Equity Score, BES-360, helps to identify areas where IT vendors can improve to increase share of wallet.

Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity

Our research finds that Cisco has done extremely well in building trust and reputation within its own SMB channel partner base. Cisco’s Brand Equity Score within its SMB channel partners is higher than most – but lower than scores for both IBM and Microsoft. The implication of these findings is that even through Cisco has high brand equity amongst its channel partners; it is not necessarily true that its entire SMB-focused channel base is firmly wedded to Cisco’s game plan.

Breaking down the data for Cisco, Techaisle’s study finds that almost 25 percent of Cisco’s channel partners have a Brand Equity rating of 80+ (on a scale of 1 to 100). This group forms Cisco’s core partners. The data also shows that almost 35 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners have equity of less than 40. These are the partners that Cisco needs to work on.

Interestingly, small business focused channel partners give a higher Brand Equity Score to Cisco than mid-market focused channel partners. This is a segment that Cisco should address as the mid-market is a battleground for most IT vendors and there is yet no clear dominant player.

Among all SMB channel partners of Cisco, VARs are actually driving up the Brand Equity Score. In fact 41 percent of VARs constitute the HBE (High Brand Equity) group. On the other hand, MSPs constitute only 20 percent. In order for Cisco to continue to grow its CMSP program and build on its initial successes, Cisco has to turn its attention to the MSPs that serve the SMBs to understand the key reasons for lower brand equity.

Drilling down further into the data, Techaisle finds that Cisco is not doing better within the overall managed services community than it is within MSPs focused on cloud. A higher percentage of Cisco’s HBE partners are offering managed services to SMBs whereas a higher percentage of ABE (Average Brand Equity) partners are offering Cloud to SMBs. Cisco’s SMB cloud ambitions would benefit from moving some of these ABE cloud partners to HBE segment. The HBE segment offering cloud services need extensive training on cloud solutions to become more successful in offering cloud to their SMB customers. More than 40 percent of these channel partners are working with SMB customers that have private cloud. This may be good for Cisco in the short-term but it does not represent best practice in this segment, and it is misaligned with the ongoing acceptance of public cloud as a preferred IT delivery platform.

Product resale revenue is 43 percent for HBE partners as compared to 38 percent for ABE. Similarly, recurring revenue is 57 percent for HBE as compared to 61 percent for ABE. Naturally, this bodes well for Cisco’s current revenue as the High Brand Equity partners are driving higher revenues from products. However, if Cisco plans to increasingly promote services then a lot more work is required to identify partners with higher services revenues and move them into the High Brand Equity segment.

Final Perspective

Brand Equity Score findings help indicate areas of expansion or exposure as vendors, like Cisco, assess their potential for expanding the footprint of their brands within the SMB channel partner community. The composition of Cisco’s BES across its channel indicates the core strength of its brand. Techaisle’s analysis indicates that Cisco has both strengths to build on and areas requiring focus as it moves to position its next-generation solutions (especially, cloud solutions) through its channel to the SMB market.

Techaisle’s brand management work is anchored in the belief that if a vendor’s brand equity is good, then it can compete successfully with vendors with lower brand equity for sales of comparable products or services. Vendors with sound products/services but low brand equity will struggle to maintain parity with competitors that have higher brand equity, even if that vendor’s products/services are (somewhat) inferior.

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80 Percent of SMBs say Cloud Computing helps Grow Their Business

Techaisle’s recently completed US SMB Cloud Computing Adoption Trend research shows that Cloud computing – which IT suppliers often position as a means of reducing cost – is viewed by 80 percent of US SMBs as a solution that contributes to business growth. This is a huge departure from previous years when reducing cost used to be the overarching objective. It implies that cloud vendors and resellers should expand their marketing dialogue beyond the cost and CAPEX vs. OPEX motivations for cloud adoption and focus on ways in which cloud-based solutions enable SMBs to expand their reach to new markets and customers. In fact, over 40 percent of SMBs state that business agility and new capabilities are driving SMB cloud adoption.

This new trend of SMBs adopting cloud for business growth creates a “perfect storm” of opportunity for cloud computing. It satisfies the demand for new technology-enabled business capabilities such as mobility, social media, business intelligence/analytics and collaboration by providing a platform for supporting these initiatives. At the same time, as IT continues to struggle with cost control, cloud provides a clear means of reigning in CAPEX and reducing management costs.

Techaisle’s survey data shows that while there is broad recognition of the importance of business agility as a cloud benefit, a “mid-SMB” niche exists – stretching from 50-250 employees – in which IT productivity is the overarching cloud objective.

The key reasons for using cloud and benefits realized vary by size of business as well as issues that are of critical concern to SMB organizations. For example, small businesses (1-99 employees) focus tightly on business benefits: increased business agility is the most compelling cloud benefit, followed by obtaining capabilities that would have been cost/time prohibitive, reducing business process-related costs, and improving business staff productivity. Mid-market businesses (100-999 employees) also appreciate these outcomes – but the highest-ranked benefit of cloud is IT related, with “make our IT staff more productive” cited as a compelling cloud benefit by nearly 60 percent of mid-market businesses.

Drilling down into the different sizes of businesses the 1-9 micro-business group also places a high value on using cloud to reduce process costs, which makes a great deal of sense, since these tasks are likely not automated in any fashion today. Respondents in the 250-499 employee size segments prioritize use of cloud to increase business user productivity, while the 500-999 employee segments is focused on cloud delivery benefits such as capabilities/agility and IT productivity. Analyzing the data by BDMs and ITDMs, the study finds that these groups have different perspectives on how cloud delivers value to their companies.

Marketers can use this data to establish broad themes for the US SMB market, and then tailor their appeals to specific sub-segments based on demonstrated needs and expectations. For more details or to learn about Techaisle’s SMB Cloud Computing Adoption Trends report please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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SMB Cloud Resellers: Recurring revenue is not the sole indicator of cloud business success

Techaisle’s SMB Channel Partner study shows that while cloud drives recurring revenue, profitable cloud channel members report that they drive more than 40 percent of revenue from non-recurring sources (such as services and attached product sales). Channel partners that are overly-reliant on recurring revenue are not achieving success in their cloud businesses; the companies in the Unsuccessful group report that more than 80 percent of revenue is derived from recurring sources.

techaisle-smb-cloud-resellers


 It is important to drive revenue from multiple business lines. While more than 50 percent of revenue for successful SMB Cloud channel partners is derived from recurring sources, unsuccessful channel partners obtain over 80 percent of revenue from recurring sources. Recurring revenue is important because one can predict earnings thereby reducing risk; however, selling licenses alone does not create a high value or high margin business. Cloud profitability requires that SMB cloud resellers combine sales of cloud services with sales of one-off consulting and products.

The market currently is comprised of two revenue sources: a large but declining on-premise business, and a small but rapidly-growing cloud business. Successful channel partners will be those that participate in both revenue pools thereby finding real advantages over single-market competitors. For example, think about a situation in which an SMB is looking for a new email system. Those that propose only physical hardware and on-premise software will be very expensive. Those that propose only cloud-based services will be much less expensive, but will not enjoy a substantial amount of revenue (a Microsoft partner would get 18 percent for the core Office 365 email connection in year one, and roughly 6 percent in second/subsequent years). A partner blending both on-premise and cloud might get both the recurring Exchange revenue plus additional product/service revenue – laptops, MDM, security software, migration and deployment services, etc. They would also achieve better margins for the on-premise products than the on-premise-only provider, since it would be more difficult to do apples-to-apples price comparisons for solutions that blend cloud and on-premise equipment.
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